Freshman reps shape state’s budget battle

The newcomers will be key in hashing out Republican budget bills to give to the governor.

Michael Zittlow

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman takes issue with the word âÄúfreshman.âÄù
Hoffman, R-Vergas, belongs to a class of first-term lawmakers at the state Capitol that has found itself in the midst of a long and contentious budget battle.
Hoffman said even Gov. Mark Dayton has referred to the group as âÄúninth graders.âÄù But as the last pieces of the RepublicansâÄô budget are pushed through the Legislature, those newcomers will be key in hashing out the bills to give to the governor.
Freshman lawmakers have real-world experience that sets them apart from career politicians, Hoffman said. And for better or worse, the Republican freshman class has left its mark on a budget that looks to redesign state operations and close the $5 billion state deficit by cutting taxes and redistributing the stateâÄôs financial resources.
The Republican freshmen in Minnesota fall in line with a national trend of resurgence in conservative leadership. Buoyed by Tea Party policy and the promise of reforming big government, they swept into the state Capitol in November, helping the GOP claim majorities in both chambers for the first time in decades.
In November, Minnesotans elected 36 new House members, 33 of who are Republicans. In the Senate, one-third of its membership is brand new to the Capitol. Only three of those are DFLers.
Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said MinnesotaâÄôs current batch of first-term lawmakers arenâÄôt typical freshmen.
The representatives are mostly businesspeople, which he said makes all the difference.
âÄúThey certainly let their thoughts be known,âÄù said Gunther, whoâÄôs in his ninth term in the House. âÄúThey get right to the meat of the discussion.âÄù
Financial experience has made the freshmen active members in drafting the budget, Gunther said.
But Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said the legislative inexperience of the large freshman class has made them susceptible to accept numbers in budget bills that arenâÄôt backed by facts, a common DFL criticism of the GOP budget.
âÄúTheir willingness to accept fake numbers, pulled out of thin airâÄù is distressing, Dibble said.
Rep. Marion Greene, DFL-Minneapolis, one of the DFLâÄôs few freshman legislators, said she worries the numbers in the budget havenâÄôt been rigorously examined, especially since they come from a party that claims fiscal responsibility.
Hoffman said her experience in business helped shape her outlook on policy. She wants to reform MinnesotaâÄôs tax and regulatory codes, which she said forced her familyâÄôs company to open a new PVC pipe plant in North Dakota instead of Minnesota.
Hoffman admits itâÄôs been hard to reform government spending. Despite criticism that the RepublicansâÄô budget cuts are overzealous, she would like to see even more reductions.
âÄúIn our world, we have compromised already,âÄù she said.
Dayton has publicly criticized the drastic cuts. If the budget bills donâÄôt undergo some kind of compromise, it is almost certain for a veto.
When she entered the Capitol, Hoffman said she found legislation seemed to favor the districts of veteran lawmakers, leading her to support cuts in local government aid to MinnesotaâÄôs biggest cities.
âÄúWhether it be a tax credit, or LGA, or even with education spending âÄìâÄì thereâÄôs a huge disparity,âÄù she said. âÄúWe want all of Minnesota to do well.âÄù
The RepublicansâÄô budget targets big cities such as Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth, with cuts in state aid and educational integration funding.
But Greene asserts these cities were chosen for political reasons, as they are typically DFL strongholds. Other critics say cuts to local government aid for big cities could lead to an elimination of the entire program.
Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, another freshman, said he supports local government aid because his rural district benefits from it. However, he said the formula through which aid numbers are calculated should be reformed.
Miller said being a freshman legislator in the majority is busier than he anticipated. With the RepublicansâÄô goal to push their budget quickly through the Legislature in the past few weeks, he has found himself working 14-hour days.
But Miller and Hoffman said they are willing to put in the hours for a budget centered on the classic political mantra: reform.
âÄúItâÄôs definitely a sacrifice,âÄù Miller said. âÄúI ran to make a difference.âÄù